Summerhill School will not close

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A SCHOOL where pupils choose whether to attend lessons has been told by inspectors that it is safe from closure.

A year ago, Summerhill, the 77-year-old Suffolk "free school", was told by the Government that it must change or face procedures which would shut it down. The letter followed six years of critical reports on issues such as "unconventional extra-curricular activities" including nude bathing.

Inspectors also criticised reading standards among younger children at the pounds 6,500-a-year boarding school where pupils make their own rules.

At their latest visit in June, however, inspectors appeared to accept the school's right to promote its alternative philosophy, Zoe Readhead, the head and daughter of the founder A S Neil, said yesterday.

A letter from the Department for Education to Mrs Readhead commented: "Attainment and progress ought not necessarily to be considered purely from the point of view of value-added but should also encompass the values- added and the extent to which the school was impacting on pupils' personal, social, moral, spiritual and cultural development."

Mrs Readhead said yesterday: "Never before have we had any acknowledgement from any inspectors that we even have a philosophy, let alone that it might be valuable." She argued that Summerhill's insistence on teaching children citizenship and encouraging them to participate in democracy was in tune with the times.

A department spokesman said: "We accept that Summerhill is different and that standards have improved. We are working towards a way to assess levels of progress in a school that has a different philosophy and where lessons are not enforced."